To a plaintive question about his 2000 "American Mavericks" festival, a
significant highlight of his tenure here, Michael Tilson Thomas replied
at a large press conference on Monday that something like that landmark
event will come again "before I'm out of here."
In the San Francisco Symphony's relentlessly self-congratulatory
season-announcement session, with undertones of a revival meeting, mention
of the bold, exciting "American Mavericks," well in the orchestra's past,
came as a nostalgic reminder to what was... and what may be missing
For his 13th year as music director, MTT programmed the upcoming 96th
season the same way the past few years have unfolded: cautious, "marketable,"
Unlike relatively tiny orchestras in Oakland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek
(and MTT's own New World Symphony in Miami) which present new works on
almost every single concert, the $54.5 million San Francisco music machine
will offer NO (zero) world or U.S. premiere next season. There will
be 13 works "new to SFS" (including Handel, Martinu, Barber and Ives -
"new," indeed!) on 31 subscription-concert series, and 2 (two) works
from local composers: John Adams and MTT himself, neither much needing
"exposure." On the other side of the ledger: 15 works by Mozart ("well
featured" last year too), 30 (thirty) by Beethoven, seven by Tchaikovsky,
and a whole festival of Brahms. Yes, "American Mavericks" was a long
Why beat up on the Symphony on this front, especially when it does so
much good in many other ways? Because it is hoisting itself on its own
petard, advertising the orchestra's "long tradition of affirming the
importance of showcasing new, rarely performed, and commissioned works,"
while in fact it has been maintaining an overwhelming, out-of-balance
emphasis on familiar classical and romantic works.
And now, some of the good news: SFS will present the West Coast premiere
of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's yet-unnamed work, co-commissioned
by San Francisco and the Berlin Philharmonic (which will also present
the U.S. premiere on tour in New York). Linderg and Los Angeles
Philharmonic's Esa-Pekka Salonen are founders of the important
experimental group, the Toimii Ensemble.
All truly "new" performances will be under the baton of guest conductors:
Roberto Abbado, leading Luca Francesconi's "Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors
of Dawn"; SFS Associate Conductor James Gaffigan with Chen Yi's "Si Ji"
(Four Seasons); Roberto Minczuk introducing his fellow Brazilian Almeida
Prado's Symphonic Variations.
Vladimir Ashkenazy leads the first performances here of Rautavaara's
"Manhattan Trilogy"; Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel presents his
countryman Evencio Castellanos' "Santa Cruz de Pacairigua"; Alan Gilbert
will lead Steven Stucky's "Son et Lumiere."
MTT's own programs include Ives' Psalm 90, and - with Deborah Voigt -
the Barber "Andromache's Farewell." MTT will conduct his own "Notturno,"
premiered in Carnegie Hall last year, as a tribute to Paul Renzi, who
retired after fifty years as SFS' principal flute.
* The season-opening gala, on Sept. 19, presents an untraditionally
challenging mix of glamour and newish music, with Renee Fleming
featured in Ravel's "Sheherazade" and yet-to-selected arias,
along with the all-too-familiar suite from Prokofiev's "Romeo
and Juliet," but adding John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast
Machine" and an "undiscovered masterpiece," Ruth Crawford
Seeger's Andante for Strings. (The composer, Pete Seeger's
stepmother, lived from 1901 to 1953.)
* In cooperation with Ruth Felt's San Francisco Performances,
the Symphony presents Andras Schiff in a two-year complete cycle
of Beethoven's piano sonatas.
* The Symphony is planning to expand its already rich family,
youth orchestra and free community concert programs, reaching
out all the way to Silicon Valley (but not following the
Forty-Niners out of town).
* The outstanding, justly-heralded "Keeping Score" project will
present documentaries about Berlioz, Shostakovich, and Ives.
MTT's Mahler recording cycle continues with "Das Lied von der
Erde," featuring Merola Program alumni Stuart Skelton and Thomas
* In an age of dwindling big-orchestra tours, MTT's band is
planning a three-week tour of Edinburgh, Berlin, Frankfurt and
Lucerne, with additional concerts in London, Hannover, Cologne,
* For the "Great Performers" series, subscription concerts,
guest artists, see the Symphony's website, at www.sfsymphony.org.
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